Israel’s Disgrace

Instead of blogging something new, I decided to share this Times article by Joe Klein, which perfectly describes my exact feelings on today’s nation of Israel.

A few years ago, I drove from Jerusalem to the West Bank, to the city of Bethlehem, to have dinner with TIME’s Palestinian stringer, the late Jamil Hamad. He was a gentle and sophisticated man, soft-spoken, and levelheaded when it came to politics. After dinner, I drove back to Jerusalem and had to pass through the bleak, forbidding security wall. An Israeli soldier asked for my papers; I gave her my passport. “You’re American!” she said, not very officially. “I love America. Where are you from?” New York, I said. “Wow,” she said, with a big smile. And then she turned serious. “What were you doing in there,” she asked, nodding toward the Palestinian side, “with those animals?”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

And that, of course, is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “won” the Israeli election. That is how he won the election even though there was a strong economic case against him, and people were tired of his ways, and about 200 former Israeli military and intelligence leaders publicly opposed his dangerously bellicose foreign policy. He won because he ran as a bigot. This is a sad reality: a great many Jews have come to regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regarded Jews. They have had cause. There have been wars, indiscriminate rockets and brutal terrorist attacks. There has been overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side, plus loathsome genocidal statements from the Iranians and others. But there has been a tragic sense of superiority and destiny on the Israeli side as well.

This has been true from the start. Read Ari Shavit’s brilliant conundrum of a book, My Promised Land, and you will get chapter and verse about the massacres perpetrated by Jews in 1948 to secure their homeland. It may be argued that the massacres were necessary, that Israel could not have been created without them, but they were massacres nonetheless. Women and children were murdered. It was the sort of behavior that is only possible when an enemy has been dehumanized. That history haunted Netanyahu’s rhetoric in the days before the election, when he scared Jews into voting for him because, he said, the Arabs were coming to polls in buses, in droves, fueled by foreign money.

It should be noted that those Arabs represent about 20% of the population of Israel. About 160,000 of them are Christian, and some of them are descendants of the first followers of Jesus. Almost all of them speak Hebrew. Every last one is a citizen—and it has been part of Israel’s democratic conceit that they are equal citizens. The public ratification of Netanyahu’s bigotry put the lie to that.

Another conceit has been that the Israeli populace favors a two-state solution. That may still be true, but the surge of voters to the Likud party in the days after Netanyahu denied Palestinian statehood sends the message that a critical mass of Israeli Jews supports the idea of Greater Israel, including Judea and Samaria on the West Bank. This puts Israeli democracy in peril. The alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution. That state can only be Jewish, in the long run, if West Bank Arabs are denied the right to vote.

There will be many—in the Muslim world, in Europe—who will say that the results are no surprise, that Israel has become a harsh, bigoted tyrant state. It has certainly acted that way at times, but usually with excellent provocation. It is an appalling irony that the Israeli vote brought joy to American neoconservatives and European anti-Semites alike.

When I was a little boy, my grandmother would sing me to sleep with the Israeli national anthem. It still brings tears to my eyes. My near annual visits to Israel have always been memorable. About a decade ago, I was at a welcoming ceremony for new immigrants—­thousands of them, Russians and Iranians and Ethiopians. And I thought, if Ethiopians and Russians could join that way, why not, eventually, Semites and Semites, Jews and Arabs?

That was the dream—that somehow Jews and Arabs could make it work, could eventually, together, create vibrant societies that would transcend bigotry and exist side by side. The dream was that the unifying force of common humanity and ethnicity would, for once, trump religious exceptionalism. It was always a long shot. It seems impossible now. For the sake of his own future, Benjamin Netanyahu has made dreadful Jewish history: he is the man who made anti-Arab bigotry an overt factor in Israeli political life. This is beyond tragic. It is shameful and embarrassing.

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Will Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Survive?

Reblogged from CNN Opinion:

(CNN) — In a stunning reversal of fortunes, Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsy was deposed by a military coup just one year after being sworn in as president. The Egyptian protesters who took to the streets by the millions over the past several days to demand Morsy’s resignation were jubilant as news spread Wednesday that their goal had been met: Morsy’s Muslim Brotherhood-backed government was gone, along with its creeping authoritarianism and mismanagement.

The leaders of the protest movement are insisting that what happened was not a military coup, but rather a remarkably peaceful demonstration of the will of the people to achieve the original goals of the revolution: bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity.

Morsy’s embittered supporters see it quite differently: Even as their democratically elected leader was talking compromise with an opposition that would have none of it, he was pushed out of office by a military that positioned its tanks in strategic locations throughout the capital, took control of state media, and has placed Morsy and key advisers under house arrest.

The Muslim Brotherhood website on Thursday warned of a “new era of repression and tyranny.” They know of what they speak: There is a long, dark history of Egypt’s military rulers brutalizing Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

Within 20 years of its founding in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, a charismatic schoolteacher and preacher, the Muslim Brotherhood was disbanded by the Egyptian government, which felt threatened by its rapid spread. The Brotherhood, a popular grass-roots political, social and religious movement, had attracted a huge following with its simple slogan, “Islam is the solution,” and its provision of social services.

By the time it was banned in 1948, it had nearly 2 million members. Several violent decades followed as increasingly radical Brotherhood members took up arms in an attempt to realize their goal of creating an Islamic state. But by the 1970s, the organization renounced violence and vowed to participate in the political process. Still, the government barely tolerated the Brotherhood; under longtime President Hosni Mubarak, Brotherhood leaders were regularly arrested in crackdowns.

Although the Brotherhood did not lead the events of January 2011 that toppled the Mubarak regime, it quickly capitalized on them to become the political front-runner in post-revolutionary Egypt. Aware that it was held in deep suspicion by many at home and abroad, the Brotherhood at first vowed not to dominate the country’s new politics. “We will not have a presidential candidate,” promised Mohamed Morsy. “We want to participate and help. We are not seeking power.”

But that promise quickly faded as the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, buoyed by its superior organizational structure and credentials as a stalwart opposition, took the largest number of seats in the new parliament (43.4%) and then won the presidency. The Brotherhood’s secular opponents became increasingly uncomfortable that they were watching a slow-motion takeover of the country by an organization that at heart remained secretive, autocratic and theocratic.

From the start, Egypt’s political stage was set for an impasse between secularists and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who believed they had won a mandate to govern the country and shape Egypt’s future in their Islamist vision.

The Islamists never seemed to acknowledge that Morsy had won the presidency in a runoff with barely a majority of votes (51.7%), and that in the first round of voting, his secular opponents combined had more than 55% of the vote. Morsy behaved arrogantly, pushing through a controversial constitution with little consensus, passing a highly divisive edict putting the president’s actions above judicial review, and in his most recent politically tone-deaf move, appointing 17 provincial governors last week, all affiliated or allied with the Muslim Brotherhood — including an astonishingly divisive member of Gamaa Islamiya, the organization responsible for the devastating 1997 massacre of 58 tourists in Luxor.

For their part, secularists never accepted the legitimacy of the Morsy government and vowed to prevent political Islam from taking hold. The judiciary, filled with holdovers from the Mubarak regime, tried to use the courts to undermine the Morsy government. Leaders of the opposition deemed any Morsy effort to compromise as half-hearted and refused to test the political process.

Against this background of political polarization, the country staggers under a teetering economy. The millions of Egyptians who filled the streets in recent days demanding Morsy’s resignation were protesting not only his authoritarian tendencies, but also his economic mismanagement.

Egypt’s fate now hangs on whether Egypt’s secularists and Islamists can be reconciled. Thursday’s statement by the National Salvation Front, the alliance of opposition parties — stressing that no parties, “particularly political Islamic groups” should be excluded from ongoing reconciliation talks — is a positive one. So too are Morsy’s calls for his supporters to pursue only peaceful protests.

But the crux of the matter is that the process of writing a new constitution, which the military has promised to oversee, is unlikely to give Islam as preferred a position as the one that Morsy pushed through. Will extremist Islamists conclude that violence is the only way they can achieve their goal of an Islamic state? The specter of Algeria’s civil war hangs heavily over the situation: In 1991, the Algerian military took control of the government after Islamists looked poised to come to power through elections. The ensuing decade of conflict left as many as 100,000 dead.

Ultimately, the role of Islam in the state must be settled by the people themselves. If Egyptians approve, through a fair and open referendum, a new constitution that reduces Islam’s role, it will take the wind out of the sails not only of the Muslim Brotherhood, but of political Islam across the region. But if Egypt returns to a cycle of repression and violence, it will only serve to revitalize a radical movement.

Why US Succeeded But Egypt Didn’t

“BREAKING NEWS” was the first thing I saw today when I opened up the political news. “Military Coup Has Toppled President Morsi.” I wasn’t surprised.

It should have been obvious from the start that Egypt’s democracy wasn’t working. Many people were already very unhappy with Morsi and his previous power grab. They did not like how he strengthened the Muslim Brotherhood Party’s hold on the government. Polls showed that many were increasingly unhappy with how Morsi was handling the government. And now, the inevitable: Morsi is toppled.

The fact that this occurred near July 4th almost seems to be planned by a higher being, given that the same day Egypt’s democracy didn’t work was also the day when US democracy did work. And it gives rise to a very important question: Why did the US succeed in being democratic whereas other nations, specifically Egypt, did not?

the leader who united the USA

Well, first off, lets look at the leaders. President Morsi. Although he was democratically elected, he did so by winning only a little bit above 50% of the vote. Obviously meaning that only half of the country supported him. Also meaning that the other half did not. Also meaning his support wasn’t very strong. This is perhaps the biggest reason why he was toppled. Now look at the other leader- George Washington. He got elected without an election. He did not get 50% of the vote, 70% of the vote, or 90% of the vote,  he got 100% of the vote. He was unanimously elected, simply put. Obviously this shows the overwhelming support Washington had, compared to Morsi’s support.

It is this element of support that is essential to the founding of a democracy. The democracy’s weakest times are usually in the beginning, in the founding of it, because it is the time in which people tend to disagree the most on how to start a democracy. One could say that the number one factor preventing democracies is the lack of unity. In Egypt, we obviously see that. In America, it was also the case, too, when the 13 colonies were constantly in disagreement over what should be included in the Constitution and what not. Thus the reason why there is the word “United” in the “United States of America”- the Founding Fathers were emphasizing on the need to unite.

What better way to unite a people together than to have an American hero- George Washington- to serve as the gluing factor between all the disagreeing people? In this case, we see the need for a united leadership as important as ever- if it was not for Washington, the United States of America would soon become un-united because of many other issues, such as slavery, and thus there wouldn’t have been the USA we know today. Whereas Washington helped promote unity, Morsi promoted division- simply because only half of the nation wanted him and because of his controversial politics.

The other thing- religion. Just the fact that there is the word “Muslim” on the name “Muslim Brotherhood Party” ruined it all. Yes, the Muslims like it. But that just alienates the non-Muslims, creating not unity but rather division. Even worse- the party made it forbidden to defame the Shariah, or a Muslim prophet. Although it may have the best of intentions, it almost seems as if the government is favoring the Muslim religion over others. Overall, not only is the name brand bad, but the actions made it worse. Now take a look at America: there was no religion involved. In fact, the Founding Fathers wanted religion to keep out of the way. They were smart enough to know that religion divided many people and caused bloodshed. Since they wanted a united nation, they made the important amendment of seperation between church and state.

The theme here is unity. The reason why the United States succeeded in forming a democracy was because it was united. In fact, after they wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers wanted to stall its publicity until June, because they were afraid America wasn’t united enough. Whereas in Egypt, they jumped right into democracy when they weren’t ready yet because the Egyptian people were still divided.

Hopefully, Egypt can learn from the US. As we celebrate Independence Day today in the US, let us all pray that Egypt can celebrate their independence day soon.

Claiming Jerusalem

Of all the cities in the world, there is none more sacred than the holy city of Jerusalem. Yet, it is this most sacred city that brings up a very famous conflict that stretches back to the Middle Ages and exists even to this day. It is a conflict over who owns Jerusalem and what rights they have.

Sacred Muslim Dome of the Rock

To understand this conflict, we must know its background. Why did this conflict even exist in the first place? One can infer obviously that this is a religious conflict, but it is not a conflict between two minor religions. Rather it is a conflict between three of the world’s greatest religions, which all happen to be monotheistic and interrelated with each other: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The first of the three to exist was Judaism, which its believers treasure this holy city due to the fact that it was the ancestral homelands of the Jews. It is mentioned in the Jewish bible tons of times, and not only that, the only wall that is left of the old Jerusalem is right in that city. For Christians, Jerusalem is treasured because it is where Jesus died. And for Muslims, it is believed that Mohammed ascended to heaven at the sacred Dome of the Rock, which is coincidentally located in the holy city. All in all, it is basically a conflict between three major religions.

The well-known Crusades were done for this reason.There has been at least 16 historical sieges of the holy city. (Including one in which a Roman emperor who I happen to share the same name with led the siege.) All of these were done for mostly religious reasons. But recently, this conflict is shifting from religious to political. Currently, Palestine and Israel are fighting over this city, mostly for religion. Israel (mostly Jew) has already seized some control over parts of Jerusalem, due to fear that if Palestine (mostly Muslim) controlled Jerusalem, it would restrict the freedom to worship there. However, many other countries have stepped into this conflict, politicizing it. The United States, for instance, has backed Israel more in fear of Palestine’s terrorists. Russia has decided to back Palestine and support a Palestinian Jerusalem.

Many entities of course want to end this very long dispute. France has suggested making Jerusalem a two-state capital between Israel and Palestine, dividing the city in half. A more popular solution by the United Nations is to make Jerusalem an international city. But whatever solutions others nation propose, so far Israel and Palestine are not accepting it.

So the big question is what to do with Jerusalem: give it away to the Jews, Muslims, or Christians? Or accept other proposals by other countries? My opinion on this is just to forget all about this. Yes, Jerusalem is a holy city. Yes, it is sacred to three major religions. But when regarding religion, is it not more of a spiritual matter than a physical matter? What I am basically saying is that if they truly wanted
Jerusalem for religious reasons, then they are hypocrites. They are too concerned with the material possessions, with the worldly things. Rather, the most important Jerusalem is the one in one’s spirit. That is the true Jerusalem they need. I mean, it’s not like they need to go to Jerusalem in order to contact God. In fact, all three religions (and by the way I’m Christian) believe that you can contact God anywhere anytime as long as you have the spirit and will to do so.

I sort of feel that all this fighting is just lame. Because all those people are not getting to the true point- it’s spiritual, not physical.

Egypt’s New Constitution

Yesterday, we got a little bit into US politics, talking about Susan Rice. Today, we will be focusing on world politics, specifically the Middle East. And more specifically, Egypt. (I know, I know, Egypt is technically an African country, but many group it as part of the Middle East.)

But before we get into this, a word about the engineering questions I posted three days ago. If you think you have the answer or would like to know how to get the answer, then please contact me through the Contacts page. I will reply to you as soon as possible.

President Morsi

Back to Egypt. Recently, President-elect Muburak was overthrown because nobody liked his corrupted lifestyle. Muburak wasted money, left his own people to suffer, and was sort of like a dictator. Of course, people protested it. Then they started rebelling. The result happened to be, again, Muburak gone and a new chance for Egyptian democracy. So, there was this election for a new, better Egyptian president. The winner, who won 51% of the vote, was a man named Mohamed Morsi, who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood Party.

Soon after Morsi was elected, we begin to see history repeating itself. Morsi suddenly declared dictator-like powers for himself, saying his power was above the judicial council and anything else. He claims this at a time when he brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Look’s like he was feeling too good about himself.

Of course, Egyptians did not want this and protested again. Morsi after some time finally said all right and with other groups of people started drafting a constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood Party believed that after this constitution, there would finally be peace. Sorry, but the opposite happened. Again, there were more violent protests against this constitutional draft. Well, why?

The first thing to make clear is that only the liberals and non-Muslims are protesting. They felt that their voices weren’t heard, and that all of this constitution was biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood. This was one reason why people rebelled against this. Keep in mind most Muslims are happy about this.

Egyptian protestors

Second, many people feel this draft will make Egypt more of a theocracy rather than a democracy. For instance, one part of the draft says that Islamic clerics have unprecedented powers. Well, this is not fair, unless other clerics of other religions also have this kind of power. Not only this, the draft also says that when referring to public morals and values, Islamic law would be the main determining factor. This translates into the fact that many people, including non-Muslims, will have to abide by Islamic law. Perhaps to make it sound good on paper, those drafters decided to add: “Freedom of belief is an inviolable right…” but I don’t know how in the world this is freedom of religion when you have to abide by a religion that you don’t believe in!

And if you think about it, if Islamic law does become the supreme power, than what does this mean about women’s status? Obviously degraded. Then, women will have to wear cloaks, can’t drive cars, etc. Thus the reason why many women are also protesting this constitutional draft.

CNN Making Sense of Egypt’s Poltical Crisis–  link to news video for more detailed info

So basically what is happening is that Egypt is divided into two factions on this issue: 1) You can support the Muslim Brotherhood party where Muslims rule and where they can inject Muslim laws into your daily lives (this reminds me of GOP trying to inject Christian values into everybody’s lives), or 2) you can go support the opposition group and advocate for a better draft. If you were living in Egypt, which one would you choose?

You can probably infer what my position is on this through my biased tone. Yes, I am for choice #2. Anyway, just yesterday the Egyptian people voted on whether to approve this constitution (the process ended yesterday). The results are showing that it is approved, but many protest that the voting process was unfair. No doubt it is. Perhaps what we really need is a third party to get involved. If you have a better idea, please comment.

However much I wish, I cannot control what is happening in Egypt. Let the Egyptians themselves decide that.